In the ten years since the breakup of his underappreciated alt-rock band Failure, Ken Andrews has kept busy twiddling knobs on albums by Jimmy Eat World, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, A Perfect Circle, and Tenacious D. The endless hours in the studio have definitely rubbed off on him. Each solo project Andrews has released in his post-Failure recording career sounds more and more like it was made by a producer/engineer: sonically faultless but lacking urgency or warmth. And although the best songs on Secrets of the Lost Satellite surpass Andrews’s lazy synthesizer rock with his On project and the expired grunge of his band Year of the Rabbit, it’s way too safe a record to get excited about.
Secrets of the Lost Satellite feels like an album calculated to please Failure fans and nobody else. Songs like “Up or Down” and “Write Your Story” reconnect with the same mid-tempo starburst chug that Andrews patented on Magnified in 1994; most tracks are coated in the familiar Fantastic Planet (1996) space glaze that turns guitar chords into streaking comet tails, synthesizer washes into interstellar dust clouds. Andrews’s husky baritone sounds exactly like it did ten years ago, and it’s great to hear him recapture his past glories, but what was adventurous in 1996 doesn’t sound so fresh anymore.
There’s also the disappointing sense that Andrews know that he’s coasting. He frontloads the album’s most melodic and multi-colored tracks, sequencing blissful space ballads alongside melodic rockers and even an unexpected Nine Inch Nails-style industrial rocker (“Secret Things”). As soon as the sixth track ends, though, he dips into a watery wasteland where production tricks reign supreme and hooks are nowhere to be found. Secrets of the Lost Satellite sure sounds great, but it’s less impressive for its songs than for how well Andrews has preserved Failure’s sonic blueprint.